The Marvel Cinematic Universe keeps growing, with the release of Eternals this month, the 26th installment in the huge franchise, directed by Oscar winner Chloé Zhao. Eternals, like the previous MCU film, Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings, concentrates on heroes who haven’t been a part of the film universe until now, therefore casual audiences may be unfamiliar with the title Eternals. (In fact, the ordinary comics reader might not know who they are.)
Here’s all you need to know about the Eternals and how they’ll fit into the MCU ahead of the Nov. 5 premiere of Eternals.
A look back at the history of cosmic comics.
In 1976, famed comics writer and artist Jack Kirby developed the Eternals, a group of eternal beings tasked with protecting and nurturing humanity. In 1970, Kirby departed Marvel Comics for rival DC Comics, where he co-created Captain America, The Fantastic Four, and many other classic characters. During his time there, he created the New Gods, a cosmic, high-concept group of characters that included Justice League villain Darkseid. When Kirby returned to Marvel five years later, he intended to continue exploring some of the mythical sci-fi concepts he had explored with DC’s New Gods. The Eternals #1, released in July 1976, was the result of this desire.
The Eternals were a type of near-immortal, humanoid being with a variety of abilities created by Celestials, who were exceedingly powerful and beyond ancient beings. The Celestials experimented on humanity eons ago, cultivating the ability for ordinary humans to develop mutations (a la the X-Men) or other superpowers, as well as developing a malevolent type of creature alongside the Eternals: The Deviants. The Eternals were tasked with protecting humanity against the Deviants.
Many of the Eternals in the comics—more than in the film—have names that resemble gods or other characters from Greek mythology, such as Ikarus, Sersi, and Thena (played in the film by Richard Madden, Gemma Chan, and Angelina Jolie, respectively). The Eternals’ god-like status and existence throughout prehistory explains these name parallels, as they were mistaken for Greek gods or other fabled beings.
The details of the Eternals’ story have evolved and become more complex over the years, and the MCU version isn’t necessarily identical to Kirby’s initial proposal (there’s no confirmation yet that Celestials will be the ones introducing Mutants to the MCU), but the fundamental gist remains the same. The Eternals have appeared in a variety of Marvel comic series over the years, starring in several of their own and appearing in other publications or major crossover events. The Eternals launched a new ongoing comic in January to widespread praise, but the Zhao-directed film is by far their most high-profile appearance.
What role do the Eternals play in the MCU?
The Eternals have a similar origin in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as they do in the comics, as the trailers and the film’s very proper noun-heavy opening line indicate. Celestials developed them to protect humanity from Deviants and to aid the race’ growth and development.
While the Eternals and Deviants have yet to make an appearance in the MCU, we have seen a lot of the Celestials. We witness images of a towering Celestial brandishing an Infinity Stone in Guardians of the Galaxy, and the space mining colony the Guardians visit, Knowhere, is created in the severed head of a deceased Celestial. Ego the Living Planet (Kurt Russell) is a Celestial, and Star-Lord (Chris Pratt) is half-Celestial by extension, according to Guardians of the Galaxy vol. 2. (However, in the comics, Ego is just a regular sentient planet, not a Celestial, and as a result, the movie version looks and acts a little different from the rest of the MCU’s Celestials.) Eternals will, in any case, explain the Celestials’ entire situation as a near-omnipotent race of huge cosmic space aliens in a way that previous MCU films merely hinted at.
The Eternals have existed on Earth since the Stone Age, according to the MCU continuity. “Where the hell have they been?” could be a reasonable question for someone who has seen the 25 films before to Eternals. Indeed, in the film, Dane Whiteman (a ordinary human played by Kit Harington of Game of Thrones) asks Sersi why the Eternals didn’t act after Thanos (Josh Brolin) wiped out half of the galaxy’s life. What is the solution? The Celestials told the Eternals not to get involved in any human conflict unless it involved the Deviants. As a result, they remained silent during the Infinity War, the events of Age of Ultron, Doctor Strange, Thor 2: The Dark World, and a slew of other potentially world-ending catastrophes where the Eternals could have been expected to intervene.
The non-intervention requirement of the Eternals—which is more of a movie thing than a comics thing—is convenient. The real reason the Eternals didn’t aid in any of the previous films is that Marvel Studios hadn’t developed them yet, therefore they weren’t cast and didn’t exist in the fiction. Plus, even while reading comic books, you have to be willing to accept unneeded crossovers. (Why doesn’t Superman simply assist Batman in catching the Joker, which would be a simple task for him? Because this is a Batman story, and if Superman appeared and cured all of the problems, the story would be over.)
The movie works nicely once you accept that the Eternals simply didn’t aid in any previous MCU case despite being present the entire time. In some ways, it’s one of the simpler MCU films to get into because, aside from a few one-off lines of conversation and asides, there isn’t much MCU lore that the typical spectator will need to know. Eternals stands on its own, with a story that spans millennia and a deep history that doesn’t retread any of the material that the earlier MCU films had already explored.
While Eternals has few parallels to the MCU’s past, it does set the stage for the franchise’s future in significant ways. However, revealing more information before the film’s premiere would be a spoiler.
Who exactly are the Eternals?
After establishing the Eternals’ comic background and how it’s been adapted for the MCU, it’s worth spending some time presenting the individual Eternals—though not too much time, as the objective of the film is for the audience to learn who these people are.
Despite the ensemble cast, Sersi (Gemma Chan) is the ostensible protagonist of Eternals. Chan, who appeared in Captain Marvel as a side villain, returns to the MCU as a completely unrelated character. Sersi’s superpower is the capacity to manipulate molecules and atoms, allowing her to turn inanimate objects into other materials with a single touch. Sersi previously had a connection with Ikarus (Richard Madden), the most powerful Eternal, who, like Superman, can fly and shoot laser beams from his eyes.
Ajak is the leader of the Eternals (Salma Hayek). Ajak is one of a few characters whose gender and/or race have been altered from the original comics, in which the majority of the Eternals were white men. She is the one that connects with their Celestial master and has the ability to heal.
Kingo (Kumail Nanjiani), a charming, swashbuckling Eternal who can shoot energy blasts from his fingertips in a finger-gun technique, is one of the other Eternals. Phastos (Brian Tyree Henry) is a brilliant inventor who can construct advanced technology, which he gives to the embryonic human species to help them progress. Sprite (Lia McHugh) has the ability to conjure up sophisticated, lifelike illusions. She is one of the Eternals who has the look of a child, despite the fact that she is an immortal person who never ages or grows older. Makkari (Lauren Ridloff), like the person who plays her, has super-speed and is deaf.
Druig (Barry Keoghan) has the ability to manipulate people’s thoughts, while Gilgamesh (Don Lee) has superhuman strength. Finally, there’s Thena (Angelina Jolie), a brilliant fighter who can summon any weapon she requires from cosmic energy at any time.
When the movie opens, Harington’s character, Dane Whiteman, is a normal human that Sersi is dating, but astute comics readers have noticed that he shares his name with the Marvel hero Black Knight, which could hint at his destiny in the MCU.
It introduces a slew of new characters at once, as well as a slew of new ideas that push the MCU in a new direction. Perhaps this is why Eternals is 2 hours and 37 minutes long—enough time for the audience to get a decent idea of who these characters are and where they will fit into the Marvel Cinematic Universe in the future.